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New Mexico Responders Drill for Rail Accident

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- It was just a test; it was only a test. A drill Sunday morning on the railroad siding off First Street south of Alvarado Transportation Center was designed to simulate an accident involving a derailed Rail Runner commuter train and to give Albuquerque, N.M., emergency responders hands-on experience in dealing with the variety of situations that could occur in a real rail accident, officials said.

In the drill s made-up scenario, a Rail Runner Express train was supposed to have hit a tractor trailer carrying a load of steel. The collision derails the commuter train, causing it to hit an Amtrak passenger train stopped on a parallel railroad track, said Stephanie Paiz, a commuter rail planner with the Mid-Region Council of Governments.

Volunteers from that agency and the New Mexico Rail Runner Express Fan Club, painted with fake blood, acted as accident victims both inside and outside two train cars pulled up on a siding next to stillworking tracks. Albuquerque fire fighters, police and emergency medical technicians practiced rescuing them.

C.M. Sadberry, deputy chief of operations for the Albuquerque Fire Department, said the event had been planned for about a year and wasn t occasioned by two recent fatal Rail Runner accidents. But the real accidents pointed up the importance the drill, he said.

It lets us get to know, face to face, everyone we d be involved with in a real situation. We get to test processes and procedures, then go back and modify them based on the experience. We get to practice our command structure and give our people experience, he said.

Jay Faught, a marketing coordinator with the council of governments, said the exercise gave the emergency responders practice in dealing with the unexpected.

They re simulating people with injuries and, also, hysterical people both inside and outside the cars, he said.

The exercise was organized by the Mid-Region Council of Governments, which oversees the Rail Runner Express commuter train. It organized the event in cooperation with local, state and national agencies, as well as Herzog Transportation Service Inc., which operates the Road Runner trains, Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway and Amtrak, Paiz said.

Sunday s event followed a similar exercise Oct. 20 carried out by emergency responders in Los Lunas. A third simulation is planned for Santa Fe, Paiz said.

About 250 people from approximately 35 private, state, federal and tribal agencies, located from Belen to Santa Fe, have participated in the exercises, which also include four hours of classroom instruction, she added.

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